Fear of "Framing"

Perhaps the post header ought to read "Fear of not Framing."

Framing refers to the expected impact on public opinion according to the manner in which a message is conveyed. Greed, power, and ideology motivate opponents of facts and of the expert evaluation of data, so areas for which framing is assumed to be important include politics, economic policy, morality, religion, health, and science. It is no accident that political affiliation and degree of religiosity cluster in patterns that reflect attitudes to information.

Any claim that framing of scientific information or op-ed articles will impact public opinion turns on the assumption that the public will have heard, viewed, or read the framed information in question and that the information will have been comprehended. Further, such claims for the impact of framing must assume that public opinion has not also been significantly swayed by competing messages from political opponents of the information.

Possible political or economic implications of information excite special-interest opponents of factual information to present opposing arguments or misinformation so as to ensure continued political support for the opponent's power base. The antagonistic schism of American public opinion that has entrenched along religious, economic, and in-group political lines, will render appeasement framing impotent.

I'm sure that I'll eventually find more examples of what amounts to battle of the militants versus the milquetoasts, but here is one for starters: Nisbet and Mooney in the WaPo: snake oil for the snake oil salesmen. The post by biologist PZ Myers of Pharyngula critiques an op-ed in the Washington Post by Matthew C. Nisbet* and Chris Mooney** entitled Thanks for the Facts. Now Sell Them. (April 15, 2007). Nisbet and Mooney criticize the tactics of Richard Dawkins, claiming that the atheistic evolutionary biologist gives "creationist adversaries a boost".

More recently, PZ complains of "a day that will live in inframey". In a blog post entitled Matthew Nisbet says entire environmental movement should just shut up, Chris Clark complains of Nisbet's assumption that Gore did not frame the environmental message to the liking of Republicans. This was in response to Does Gore Contribute to the Communication Crisis?, in which Nisbet blames Gore for the fact that Republic concern about global warming has fallen while that of Democrats has risen. According to Nisbet, Gore ought not to have used 'scare tactics' to convey the message of global warming threats to Republicans. I find this somewhat extraordinary since Republicans also espouse religious dogma that employs scare tactics offset by promises of salvation for good behavior. So, the problem cannot be that Republicans do not respond to scare tactics.

Since concerns over global warming amongst Democrats have increased in the same period, it seems more likely that the problem is that Republicans are also listening to the big business lobby that is promulgating warming-denial messages which appeal to the wishful thought that the planet is not in peril. This equates to personal reluctance to face the fact that individuals need to cut back on luxuries or pocket-change. Neither Democrats nor Republicans welcome the news concerning global warming–it is merely that Democrats are less likely to deny unwelcome facts out of pure selfishness. Business interests are well aware that Republicans respond to emotional, pro-religiosity, Don't-Trust-Democrats messages. Republicans might, according to the framers, respond to, "God wants you to park the SUV and take the bus!"

In the final analysis, everything, including silence, is communication. By this token, all messages are, by such a definition, framed in some way. The disagreement between 'activists versus appeasers' or 'politicizers versus pacifiers' concerns exactly how to frame a particular message in a mode most likely to produce the desired result. The reality is that volume may count more than framing–just as we are more likely to pay attention to the same message from three people than from one person, so are we more likely to pay attention to the same message from many sources than from one, no matter how that message is "framed".

On the topic of Gore's presentation of global warming predictions, Tim Lambert (Deltoid blog) provides a good summary of scientists' asssessments: Update on the nine alleged errors in An Inconvenient Truth, which is a follow-up on An 'error' is not the same thing as an error.

*Matthew C. Nisbet is a professor in the school of communication at American University, where his "research focuses on the intersections between science, media, and politics." Nisbet has a blog called Framing Science, where he discusses his "framing" ideas. His latest post is entitled Only 50% of Americans Have a Favorable View of Al Gore, in which Nisbet comments that Republicans do not favor Democrat Gore.

**Chris Mooney is Washington correspondent for Seed magazine and the author of The Republican War on Science and the newly released Storm World. Mooney co-authors a blog called The Intersection.

Elsewhere: Al Gore Wins the Nobel Peace Prize for Framing : Appeasers: The spineless pushovers :

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